Monday, August 1, 2011

Policy risk and the business cycle

The US economy seems stuck in its tracks, and many blame uncertainty about future public policy, including me. Indeed, private firms are currently sitting on a lot of cash and are making very good profits, yet they are not investing or hiring. This really looks like a wait-and-see game. But it this justification well-founded or is it just a cheap excuse to justify higher than usual profits in the face of high unemployment?

Benjamin Born and Johannes Pfeifer put some structure into these arguments by taking a standard New Keynesian model and adding uncertainty about monetary and fiscal policy. They measure this by looking at tax rates and monetary policy shocks with time-varying volatility. Previous literature already looked at the impact of aggregate uncertainty, which policy makers can do little about. But policy uncertainty is another matter. And there is hope, as Born and Pfeifer show that the impact of policy uncertainty is not that important (but much larger than uncertainty about productivity shocks) thanks to monetary policy reaction through a Taylor Rule. So that is somewhat reassuring, but then the size of the current policy uncertainty is an order of magnitude larger than when this paper was written, and monetary policy is bound by non-negative nominal interest rates.

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